If you’re mechanically-skilled and looking for a new career, you might consider becoming a machinist. Machinists work with machine tools like lathes, grinders, and milling machines. Their job is to operate these machines to create precision metal parts. An employee in this role may also be responsible for machine maintenance and installation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, machinists make an average of $44,420 annually. That’s a good deal more than the average annual wage for someone without a college degree ($30,500).
But if you decide to become a machinist, you will need to train for the role. The most common way to do that is by pursuing either a technical degree or certification.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to go or which program to pursue. We’ve put together a list of the top machinist schools and certifications for you to consider. Keep reading to learn more.
Do you need a degree or certification to become a machinist?
Let’s start by answering this important question. Technically speaking, no, you do not need to have a degree or certification to become a machinist. You can get a job in this role with only a high school degree or a GED.
But exact educational requirements vary on an employer-by-employer basis. Some may require a technical degree or a specific certification, while others may not.
Regardless, you will need some way of showing potential employers that you have the skills needed to perform the basic tasks of a machinist. You might be able to do that through work experience. But you’ll appeal to a wider array of potential employers with a degree or certification.
So while you don’t necessarily need formal academic training to become a machinist, having it will be extremely beneficial to your job search.
Best machinist certifications
Earning a certification is a fantastic way to demonstrate your expertise in a specific skill that’s required of machinists. Here are some of the best certifications for aspiring machinists.
PRECISION SHEET METAL OPERATOR
The Precision Sheet Metal Operator certification is offered by the Fabricators and Manufacturer’s Association. It’s designed for entry-level machinists who want to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of materials, equipment operation, machine maintenance, and quality control.
To earn the certification, you need to have at least one year of machine operator experience, technical instruction, or apprenticeship training. Then you’ll need to pass a 100-question multiple-choice exam that covers the topics listed above.
MACHINING LEVEL 1 – CNC MILLING: OPERATIONS
This certification is offered by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). It certifies your skill in cutting tool assembly and selection, as well as applied mathematics, milling machine maintenance, and more. To earn the certification, you’ll need to pass a 56-question exam. It’s a great way for entry-level machinists to prove their expertise in milling machine operation.
LEVEL 1 MACHINE LUBRICANT ANALYST
The Machine Lubricant Analyst certification is offered by the International Council for Machinery Lubrication. It can be taken without previous work experience and demonstrates that you can successfully monitor and maintain machinery through the proper application of lube oil analysis.
MACHINING LEVEL 1 – DRILL PRESS I
Drill presses are one of the tools that machinists use the most. You can demonstrate your expertise in drill presses by earning this certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. Doing so will require you to pass both a theory and performance test.
MACHINING LEVEL 1 – JOB PLANNING, BENCHWORK, AND LAYOUT
This is another certification that’s offered by NIMS. It focuses on the skills that a machinist needs during the job planning phase of their work. Earning the certification is an excellent way to show employers that you know how to prepare for a wide variety of machinist tasks successfully.
If you’d like to pursue the certification, you will need to pass a 65-question theory exam and a performance assessment.
Machining Level II – CNC Milling II
This certification is intended for machinists who already have significant experience in the workplace. It’s offered by NIMS and awarded based on the successful completion of a written test and performance assessment.
Earning the Machining Level II – CNC Milling II certification is a great way to prepare yourself for advanced employment opportunities. It demonstrates that you’re an expert at operating and maintaining CNC milling machines. That could be just what you need to take the next step towards your career goals.
Top Machinist Schools
Certifications are a great way to demonstrate that you possess specific machinist skills. But school-based training is usually a better option for aspiring machinists who want to develop the general skills and theoretical knowledge that they need to get hired.
Each of the schools below has earned a reputation as one of the very best in the country for training new machinists. Let’s take a closer at each of their offerings.
NTMA TRAINING CENTERS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
NTMA is a school that’s dedicated to training the next generation of manufacturing employees. They have more than 53 years of experience in training machinists and an 88% job placement rate.
Their machinist training program offers both hands-on and theoretical training. Completing it will give you the skills that you need to successfully begin a career in 21st-century machine technology.
MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY
Montana State University offers a CNC Machine Technology Certificate of Applied Science Program. It’s one of the best in the nation and a fantastic way to prepare yourself for a career focused on CNC machine operation.
The 34-credit program was designed to be completed in just two semesters. So you will only need to spend a year working towards the certification. Your coursework will include classes on:
- Technical Mathematics
- Machine Shop Level 1
- CNC Milling and Turning Operations Level 1
- CNC Lathe Operations Level 2
- Tooling and Work Holding for CNC
- And more
COLORADO MESA UNIVERSITY
Colorado Mesa University offers a CNC Machinists / Manufacturing Technology Program that’s worth your attention. It was designed to provide students with industrial knowledge and skills so that they can operate a wide variety of machines.
This program emphasizes CNC machinery and CAD/CAM software. Complete the degree and you’ll be well on your way to a successful career as a machinist.
UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Utah State University has an entire Machine Tool Technology Program for students to enjoy. The school has several different degrees and certification options to consider. Each will teach you how to operate and maintain the most commonly-used machine tools.
You’ll gain hands-on experiencing working with lathes, milling machines, grinders, and CNC machines. The programs will also teach you how to read blueprints, setup tools, and test various types of machined parts, among other things.
SANTA ANA COLLEGE
Santa Ana College is another school with a dedicated Manufacturing Technology Department. Here, students can learn everything that they need to become a machinist. The department offers classes on concepts like:
- Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
- CNC Mill and Lathe Operation
- Conventional Mill and Lathe Operation
- Metals Technology
- Blueprint Reading
- Technical Math
- And More
Visit this link to see the complete list of machinist degrees and certifications offered by Santa Ana College.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
If you’re interested in specializing in CNC machine operation, then Northern Michigan University could be a great option. The school has several certifications, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees available to teach students about CNC machines.
For example, their CNC Numerical Control Technology Program includes the opportunity to study:
- Technical drafting
- Schematic/diagram design
- Product development and design
- Quality control
- Advanced CNC operations
- Applied mathematics
- And more
Is it better to get a degree or certificate?
Both degrees and certificates will help you work towards your career goals. The one that’s right for you will depend on your unique circumstances.
For example, your goal might be to demonstrate that you’re an expert at a specific machinist task. If so, earning certification for that task would be the best way to accomplish that.
Or your goal could be to develop your overall machinist skills. If so, pursuing a degree would likely be a better choice. Degree programs cover more topics and tend to offer more depth than certificates. But they also typically take longer than certifications to complete.
Only you can weigh these factors against your goals and decide whether a degree or a certification program comes out on top.